What is domestic violence?

Domestic violence can be  physical, emotional, sexual, psychological or financial abuse from a partner, ex-partner or family member.  Domestic abuse is a pattern of controlling behaviour.  Forced marriage and honour based violence are also forms of domestic violence.

Does domestic violence only happen in certain cultures or classes?

Research shows that domestic violence is most commonly experienced by women and perpetrated by men. Women can also experience domestic violence from female partners or female family members. Any woman can experience domestic violence regardless of race, ethnic or religious group, class, disability, sexuality or lifestyle. There is no evidence to suggest that abuse is more common among any particular group in society.

What is the official definition of domestic violence?

The Government defines domestic violence as “Any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse (psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional) between adults who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality.” This includes issues of concern to black and minority ethnic (BME) communities such as “honour based violence”.

Why does it happen?

All forms of domestic violence – psychological, economic, emotional and physical – come from the abuser’s desire for power and control over other family members or intimate partners. Although every situation is unique, there are common factors involved.

What are the signs of domestic violence?

Destructive criticism and verbal abuse: shouting, mocking, accusing, name calling, threatening…

Pressure tactics: sulking, threatening to withhold money, disconnect the telephone, take the car away, commit suicide, take the children away, report you to welfare agencies unless you comply with his demands regarding bringing up the children, lying to your friends and family about you, telling you that you have no choice in any decisions…

Disrespect: persistently putting you down in front of other people, not listening or responding when you talk, interrupting your telephone calls, taking money from your purse without asking, refusing to help with childcare or housework…

Breaking trust: lying to you, withholding information from you, being jealous, having other relationships, breaking promises and shared agreements…

Isolation: monitoring or blocking your telephone calls, telling you where you can and cannot go, preventing you from seeing friends and relatives…

Denial: saying the abuse doesn’t happen, saying you caused the abusive behaviour, being  gentle and patient in public, crying and begging for forgiveness, saying it will never happen again…

Harassment: following you, checking up on you, opening your mail, checking to see who has telephoned you, embarrassing you in public…

Threats: making angry gestures, using physical size to intimidate, shouting you down, destroying your possessions, breaking things, punching walls, wielding a knife or a gun, threatening to kill or harm you and the children…

Sexual violence: using force, threats or intimidation to make you perform sexual acts, having sex with you when you don’t want to have sex, any degrading treatment based on your sexual orientation…

Physical violence: punching, slapping, hitting, biting, pinching, kicking, pulling hair out, pushing, shoving, burning, strangling…

Is it a crime?

Domestic violence includes a number of different behaviours and consequences (as listed above), so there is no single criminal offence of ‘domestic violence’. Instead, there are several categories within the law that constitute a criminal offence that may also be defined as domestic violence.

Not all forms of domestic violence are illegal, for example some forms of emotional violence. However, these types of violence can also have a serious and lasting impact on a woman or child’s sense of well-being and autonomy. Criminal offences include: assault, threat to kill, wounding, attempting to choke, harassment, putting people in fear of violence, rape, sexual assault and exposure (Walby & Allen, 2004).

What is the cost of domestic violence?

The estimated total cost of domestic violence to society in monetary terms is £23 billion per annum. This figure includes an estimated £3.1 billion as the cost to the state and £1.3 billion as the cost to employers and human suffering cost of £17 billion. The estimated total cost to the state is based on the following:

Criminal justice system – £1 billion per annum (this represents one quarter of the criminal justice budget for violent crime including the cost of homicide to adult women annually of £112 million).

Health (NHS) – £1.2 billion (including mental health care estimated at an additional £176 million). Social services – £0.25 billion.

Housing – £0.16 billion.

Civil legal services – £0.3 billion. (Walby, 2004).

The statistics collated by Walby above are recognised as an under-estimate because public services don’t collect information on the extent to which their services are used as a result of domestic violence. The research doesn’t include costs to those areas for which it was difficult to collect any baseline information – for example cost to social services work with vulnerable adults, cost to education services, the human cost to children, of children moving schools and the impact this has on their education, excludes the cost of therapeutic and other support within the voluntary sector.

Key statistics: How common is domestic violence?

One in four women: An analysis of 10 separate domestic violence prevalence studies found consistent findings: 1 in 4 women experience domestic violence over their lifetimes and between 6-10% of women suffer domestic violence in a given year (Council of Europe, 2002).

12.9 million incidents: British Crime Survey found that there were an estimated 12.9 million incidents of domestic violence acts (that constituted non-sexual threats or force) against women and 2.5 million against men in England and Wales in the year preceding interview (Walby & Allen, 2004).

One in five counselling sessions: Nearly 1 in 5 counselling sessions held in Relate Centres in England on 28 September 2000 mentioned domestic violence as an issue in the marriage (Stanko, 2000).

One call a minute to the police: Every minute in the UK, the Police receive a call from the public for assistance for domestic violence. This leads to police receiving an estimated 1,300 calls each day or over 570,000 each year. (Stanko, 2000). However, according to the British Crime Survey, only 40.2% of actual domestic violence crime is reported to the Police (Dodd et al, July 2004).

Women assaulted by men they know: British Crime Survey research found that “women are most commonly sexually assaulted by men they know”. When the researchers asked women about the last incident of rape experienced since the age of 16, they found that 45% were raped by current partners, 11% by former partners, 11% were raped on “dates”, 16% by acquaintances and 10% by “other intimates”. 8% were raped by strangers (Myhill & Allen, 2002). Assaults from partners not living together: Of women who had experienced domestic violence, 25% had never lived with the partner who had committed the worst act of violence against them. (Walby & Allen, 2004).

Fear of being killed: In a study of 200 women’s experiences of domestic violence it was found that 60% of the women had left because they feared that they or their children would be killed by the perpetrator (Humphreys & Thiara, 2002).

If you need help here are some suggestions.

If you stay: If you are living in an abusive relationship and are not ready to leave, you must keep yourself and your children safe. Whatever your reasons for staying, you do not deserve to be abused. If you decide to stay with your partner and work things out, seek outside help. See a counsellor who does not blame you for the abuse and who puts your safety first.

Sometimes women have to leave in a hurry. This might be when, for them, the relationship is over. It might be to escape a particular assault, or to take a break for safety and the time and space to plan and think about things.

Making a crisis plan can help you feel more in control and give you more confidence. This is just a suggested plan of action, which you can add to, or change.

– Find somewhere you can quickly and easily use a phone.
– Carry with you a list of emergency numbers.
– Include friends, relatives, local police, Women’s Aid, (even well known numbers can be forgotten in a panic).
– Try to save some money for bus, train, taxi fares.
– Have an extra set of keys for house, flat, car. – Keep the keys, money and a set of clothes for you and the children packed ready in a bag that you can get quickly.

– If you have more time to plan leaving do as much as possible of the following: – Leave when your abuser is not around
– Take all of your children with you.
– Take your legal and financial papers, i.e. marriage and birth certificates, court orders, national health cards, passports, driving licence, benefit books, address book, bank books, tenancy agreements, rent book etc. – Take any of your personal possessions, which have sentimental value – photographs or jewellery for example.
– Take favourite toys for the children
– Take clothing for at least several days
– Take any medicine you or your children might need

If you do leave and later discover you have forgotten something, you can always arrange for the protection of a police escort to return home to collect it.

No one has the right to abuse you.
It is not a private family matter- it’s a crime.
There is never an excuse.

Information to consider if you are being abused.

You are not the only one: Research shows that around one in four women experience domestic violence. It happens to women of all ages, classes, races, religions, sexualities, abilities, and levels of intelligence and to women with and without children.

You are not to blame: You are not responsible for the violence. Your abuser has choices about how to react such as walking away until he is calmer

You cannot change your abuser’s behaviour: You have probably noticed that it doesn’t make much difference what you do to pacify your abuser; they are violent anyway. The only way they can change is if they realise they have a problem and seek help.

Domestic violence is dangerous: It rarely happens only once. Usually the violence gets more serious the longer it goes on. Many abusers go to pieces after an assault or if their partners threaten to leave them. They can be very sorry and promise to stop the violence, give up drinking etc. Women sometimes feel sorry for them, believe them and agree to stay. Unfortunately, experience shows that changes rarely last. Sadly, for some women, what began as a slap ended in murder.

Break the silence – don’t remain isolated: You have nothing to be ashamed of. Don’t keep the violence a secret. You need support and there are people who will help. However, there are still people who wrongly believe that it’s OK for a man to hit his partner or that it is her fault if he does. Choose the people you talk with carefully. Don’t suffer alone.

There is life after domestic violence: Many women start new and rewarding lives and discover that they enjoy living without a partner. Some start new loving relationships, which they never believed were possible when they were with their violent partner. Women find out that the things their abusers told them (‘you’re stupid/ugly/useless/no-one else would have you/you’ll never make it on your own/etc’) were wrong.

“But my particular situation makes it harder”

For instance: Disabled women experience discrimination and oppression. This may make you feel you should be ‘grateful’ if someone forms an intimate relationship with you, particularly if they are non-disabled. You may fear that other people will not believe you or will tell you to be more ‘understanding’ of the pressures he is under. If your home is specially adapted you may want to stay, but will you be safe? If your abuser is your carer, how will you cope without him/ her? Is institutionalisation the only option? How can you find a solicitor whose office is accessible? How can you leave without an income?

Black, minority ethnic, migrant and refugee women also face particular problems as do lesbians, older women and Travelling women. Although your circumstances may mean that there are additional obstacles for you to face, it is still possible for you to take action. There are things you can do and people who can help.

Many women find that domestic violence seriously damages their confidence. You may feel that you are not worth the effort or that you must have done something bad to cause the abuse. Although it can be hard, remember you are strong (you’ve survived so far!) and you are a person of value.

Some points to think about:

– Do you have enough time to talk to someone on our telephone helpline?
– Could you attend a drop in session to find out more about the options available to you?
– How safe would you feel, talking to a helpline worker?
– Does your partner know where you are living?
– Do you think s/he will attempt to find you? – Can s/he find out your whereabouts from someone e.g. relative, friend, school?
– Are there places you have to go that he might know about e.g. DSS, schools? Is there a way you can change your routine?
– Do you have a neighbour who would call the police in an emergency?
– Is there a way you can let the neighbour know you need help?
– Can you arrange code words with family and friends to let them know on the telephone that you are not safe?
– Are there any safety precautions that you feel might help in your home e.g. a room that you can lock, access to keys to front or back door, telephones?
– Do you have a spare set of keys which you can keep at someone else’s house – to provide access to the house in an emergency?
– Can you keep copies of important documents and/or money somewhere safe, either with a friend or on her person?
– Are you aware that an abuser could trace you by dialling 1471, pressing last number recall or itemised phone bills?
– Do you have emergency contact numbers?
– If you are thinking of leaving, you may want to think about other parts of the city/ country where you may be at risk e.g. his place of work, where his family or friends